Natalia L. Lunina

As Interviewed by Fedor A., March 13, 2014

Natalia L. Lunina: In Her Own Words

My name in Natalia Lunina. I was born on August 12, 1951, in the city of Makeevka. This city was located on the territory of the Ukrainian Socialist Republic in the USSR. My father, Leonid Lavrentiavich Gapunik, was a railroad engineer. He graduated from MIET, the Moscow Institute of Engineers of Transportation. During my childhood he worked in Donetsk in the Ministry of Coal Technology of the USSR, which was then located there. Closer to retirement he was the chief engineer of the Iron and Steel Making Factory. All his life he was a railroad engineer. My mother, Evdokia Balahontseva, was an engineer dispatcher during my childhood. Part of her job was to make sure that all the coal that came from the mines was put into train wagons and sent off to the correct destination. We lived in Donbas, a coal basin, where there were tens and maybe hundreds of coal mines. Work was in shifts, because the mines worked night and day and during all holidays. My mother regularly worked during the night and on holidays.

My parents met during World War II. My father was enlisted as a military engineer and worked with railroads. He rebuilt bridges destroyed by bombing. My mother went to war as a volunteer when she was sixteen and worked as a secretary in the staff headquarters. They met there and married after the war. In my family we always talked in Russian, and I consider myself to be a Russian citizen. Most of Donbas consisted of Russians.

We came to Donetsk from Makeevka when I was 3 years-old. At first we started living in a two-room apartment, and in the kitchen we had an oven that was powered by coal. I remember this very well, and I remember how the oven was taken apart and replaced with a gas stove. It is a pretty powerful memory, the oven, and the disassembling of it. Also I have a memory of my really early childhood, when all of the family was sick, and for some time my father wasnít sick and everyone else was. I remember how Iím lying on the big bed with my grandmother, while father is reading us a book. Iím pretty sure that evening he was reading Evenings on the Farm near Deekanki. The evening was late, the table lamp was small, a little red mushroom. Dad is sitting and reading, and Iím laying there. And it feels so good to hear my fatherís voice. Even though Iím sick, I feel extremely happy. Itís one of the greatest memories of my early childhood.

In school we had a class log-book, and in that log-book there was a page with information about the students. And there was a column, ďInformation about Parents.Ē I always saw how these were filled. We were considered to be state workers. There were workers, but most of the students in our school were from state worker families. And never, ever, in my life do I remember that my social position had any effect on my life. My social position never impacted decisions that were made. If there were someone who worked in a factory who hit things with a hammer, he was a worker. The engineer next to him was a state worker. There were also farmers who worked the fields.

The state had huge impact on my childhood. All my knowledge was gained in school, my view on life, too. Mother never helped me with education because she had no time to. She worked, sometimes in shifts, and in evenings learned in school and college. She was very busy, and we talked extremely rarely. I learned in school, pretty well, and took my knowledge from there, as well as my view on life. School taught me and shaped me.

My parents were atheist, and my grandma also didn't believe in God. In our house there were no Orthodox icons, no crosses.

Without a doubt propaganda was a constant element of our life. For instance, in class above the blackboard, at first there were two paintings hanging, of Lenin and Stalin. But then the reform occurred, the portrait of Stalin was put away, and then even our notebooks were changed. This is because in first grade I signed my notebooks like so; Arithmetic Notebook, Student of Class 1-B, School N2, City of Stalin, Gapunik Natalia. Then the city of Stalin was renamed and was called the city of Donetsk, and all notebooks we re-signed, and all notebooks now said city of Donetsk. This fact shocked me, and I remember it very well. And of course propaganda was always implanted in our heads in the motto, ďThank you for our happy childhood, dear country.Ē It was always emphasized that children were living better than everyone else because the nation was so great. But I was sure that, yes, we were happy, that we were living well. I donít think propaganda was bad and hurt our life. I took it in calmly.

School ends. After school ends itís time to go home. But I lived really close to school, and it was boring to just go home. And very often I would walk with my school friend Alla, who lived farther. We had a long walk, we walked with long conversations and I learned about life from her. My friend Alla lived in a completely different environment than me. I lived with my grandma, I was the younger sister in my family. Alla was the oldest, lived with her younger sister, mother, and stepfather. Her life was hard. She was responsible for taking care of her sister, taking her from pre-school, feeding her. She had to take clothes to the public laundry shop, and I had never been in one before.

I was of course an Obtyabrenok, and a Pioneer, and a member of the Komsomol. This was a normal path of a student. In first grade everyone was accepted into the Octyaborniks; all kids to a certain age were accepted into the Pioneers. And at the end of school, into the Komsomol. It was considered that if someone does something extremely bad, then he could be kicked out of the Pioneers. This was a threat hanging all of our heads. But during my whole life, I had never seen anyone be kicked out of the Pioneers. If you were kicked out, it was considered something extremely wrong. In the Pioneers I recycled, collected metal scraps and newspapers. I also had an extra job of helping students that were falling behind. I had fun. My grandfather was a teacher, and I think that I have some passed-down traits. I liked teaching. There were Pioneer meetings, well they were called Pioneer meetings, but it was really a morning meeting.

During the summer I went to Pioneer camps. This system was really just to get kids closer to the sea. I also lived in a mine-populated area, and the air wasnít the best. All the kids in Donetsk were normally sent as close as possible to the sea. Every summer I went to a camp. Parents sent their kids there. Many factories had their own Pioneer camps. For instance, my motherís workís Pioneer camp on the Black Sea was really good. It was a very small camp, army tents with a line down the middle, a wooden dining hall. And even the bathrooms were beyond the formal borders of the camp. Just the sea and an amazing beach. The best Iíve ever seen. Sand was great. The sea clean and warm. This is the Black Sea Coast, the area where there were vineyards. Then I went to a camp from my fatherís work, on the Sea of Azov. There were wooden buildings. But then there was the camp from when he worked in the Iron and Steel Making Factory, there were stone buildings, and there were tens of camps down the coasts. I was very lucky with my Pioneer camps.

I never closely met any capitalist figures, but I saw them from afar. Once I saw a group of people walking out of a hotel being led by a tour guide talking in a foreign language. You could see that it was some kind of foreign delegation. They could be seen from afar, and not only by their clothes. For a long time I tried to formulate how they were different from our people, even when you canít hear them, even if you ignore what kind of clothes they were wearing. They were strongly different. But in what way? And finally, I understood, they carried themselves differently. You could see their feeling of self-confidence, which wasnít seen in a Soviet citizen. A Soviet citizen was always ready to be berated, at any corner, in any shop. But these werenít. They carried themselves differently. It was the main difference.

This Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred in the May Holidays and we, as a family, all four of us, were taking a canoe trip. We were rowing around in our canoes in the neighboring province, the Kalushka Province, and at the end of the May Holidays were coming back from the Kalushka Province to Moscow. On the way into the Moscow Province, the bus was stopped, and the bus was sniffed by some kind of devices. We didnít understand anything, who was doing it or why. We had no information that something had happened out of the ordinary. Absolutely none.

They said nothing. They seemed to be policemen, then called the militiamen. They had an order to get the job done, but they had no order to spread information about what was going on! We started finding out about Chernobyl very slowly, piece by piece. And another thing I can say about this is that even the people living in Kiev werenít told the scale of what had happened for some time. But after a while, the parents of children were told, ďComrade parents, on all school holidays please, if possible, send your children as far away as possible from Kiev. And the farther the better.Ē Breaks were prolonged, and in those times, some girls, Natasha and Jenia, from our friends in Kiev, were sent to live with us, far away from Kiev, and for them I had the first Winter School. So after some time, but not immediately, the government of Kiev chose to care for the health of the children. Chernobyl occurred in 1986, while the first Winter School took place in 1990.

So what can I say about my childhood. I remember my childhood as a very happy time. Every summer I went to camps on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. I was also happy that I regularly attended tournaments in physics and mathematics. And thanks to my math teacher, I got first place in the provincial competition in ninth grade and went to the Republic competition to another city, Harkov. We took the Olympiad in the Harkov University, and there was a zoo next to it. You could hear the roaring of the lions in the hall while we wrote for those four hours. After the math test they said that if you wanted to apply to the boarding school you should go to a physics interview, and I went. And I was accepted into the physics-math boarding school. The year in that school was the greatest year in my life, because I was in a setting of similar-minded people and great teachers, as well as students who had the same interests. It was amazing.